Fall Leaf Color Still Visible In Western NC Mountains

Talking Fall Foliage With Terran Kirksey

LAKE JAMES - Fall is not lost in Western North Carolina.

The orange and yellow hues hugging the sides of Hickory Nut Gorge between Asheville and Lake Lure, and the orangey reds of maples and sweet gums circling Lake James are proof that Western North Carolina has one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country.

Although this weekend might be its last gasp.

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These areas to the east of Asheville are some of the lowest in elevation in the mountains, are warmer, and so the leaves are the last to turn colors.

Leaves need clear sunny days and cool nights to trigger the halt in the green-pigmented chlorophyll, and let the brilliance of reds, purples, oranges and yellows shine through.

This fall in WNC has been an erratic, unusual one, with September hurricanes blowing off leaves prematurely and extended above-average heat in October slowing the color change.

“The color is progressing. We usually have peak color the week leading into Halloween, but it’s about two weeks behind,” said Nora Coffey, superintendent of Lake James State Park.

WNC’s mountains range form the highest in the Eastern United States, the Black Mountains, which include Mount Mitchell, the highest peak, at 6,684 feet, down to Asheville at 2,200 feet, and dip even lower into the foothills.

Lake James, in Burke and McDowell counties, about an hour east of Asheville sits at 1,200 feet in elevation.

“We have some nice red maples, sourwoods, sweet gums, beech and birch. It’s not as good as it has been. It’s a little slow, but if you’re out paddling, you can really take in the variety of trees we have here,” Coffey said.

The park’s boat rentals have ended for the season, but visitors are welcome to launch their own canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. The Catawba River and Paddy’s Creek campgrounds are open year-round, and there are even boat-in-only campsites at the Long Arm campground.

The park also has numerous hiking and mountain biking trails and ranger-led nature programs, even one by speedboat.

WNC’s mountains range form the highest in the Eastern United States, the Black Mountains, which include Mount Mitchell, the highest peak, at 6,684 feet, down to Asheville at 2,200 feet, and dip even lower into the foothills.

Lake James, in Burke and McDowell counties, about an hour east of Asheville sits at 1,200 feet in elevation.

“We have some nice red maples, sourwoods, sweet gums, beech and birch. It’s not as good as it has been. It’s a little slow, but if you’re out paddling, you can really take in the variety of trees we have here,” Coffey said.

The park’s boat rentals have ended for the season, but visitors are welcome to launch their own canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. The Catawba River and Paddy’s Creek campgrounds are open year-round, and there are even boat-in-only campsites at the Long Arm campground.

The park also has numerous hiking and mountain biking trails and ranger-led nature programs, even one by speedboat.

Lake Lure Boat Tours run hour-long pontoon boat tours across the sparkly lake Boat tour – every hour on the hour (828-625-1373, 2930 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure).

The lake will be dropped about 10 feet on Nov. 26 to allow dredging and to give people a chance to repair their docks, Hargett said.

So hurry up to see fall from the lake. And if you can’t get out that way, the colors on just about any street around Asheville, and along the French Broad River, are just a walk away.

Ways to enjoy WNC fall foliage this weekend
•Take a hike to Catawba Falls: From Asheville, take I-40 east to Exit 73 at Old Fort. Turn right onto Catawba River Road before the end of the exit ramp. Drive three miles to the end of the road to the parking lot. The trail is in the Pisgah National Forest, about a half-hour east of Asheville. It crosses creeks and climbs over sometimes rocky terrain, but the 3-mile roundtrip hike is considered moderate, leading to the 100-foot falls.

Free fall fun at Lake James State Park:
•Fall Colors Boat Tour: Nov. 10. This might be one of your best chances to experience the fall foliage season before winter descends. Ranger Clay Veasey will lead an excursion aboard the park patrol boat to seek out the reds, golds, purples, and oranges of autumn. Space limited to eight people. Registration is required. Call the park office at 828-584-7728. Meet at the Paddy’s Creek East Picnic Shelter at 9:45 a.m. for a briefing and 10 a.m. departure.
•Waterfowl Hike: Nov. 11: Many species of waterfowl, including ducks, grebes, loons and cormorants, spend the winter months on Lake James. Ranger Clay Veasey will guide a hike in search of birds from the Paddy’s Creek Trail. Dress for the weather and bring binoculars if you have them. The 2-mile hike starts at the Paddy’s Creek Area bathhouse breezeway at 10 a.m.
•Fall Colors Hike: Nov. 12. Meet Park Ranger Kevin Bischof at the Catawba River Area to enjoy the park in fall. Along the hike discover how the leaves change color. In addition, learn to identify tree species. Meet at the office of the Catawba River Area at 1 p.m.
•Waterfowl Watch Boat Tour: Nov. 14: Many species of waterfowl, including ducks, grebes, loons and cormorants spend the winter months on Lake James. Ranger Earl Weaver will guide the park patrol boat in search of these birds. Space limited to eight. Dress warmly. Registration is required and available first-come, first-served. Call 828-584-7728. Meet at 1:45 p.m. at the Paddy's Creek Area, East Picnic Shelter.
•Fall Birdwatching Hike: Nov. 18: Bird migration is in full swing at Lake James. The Paddy’s Creek parking area offers the right mix of open water, shoreline woods and fields to see lots of species in a morning. Join Ranger Jamie Cameron at 9 a.m. at the Paddy’s Creek Area bathhouse breezeway. Bring binoculars and a field guide if you have them.
•Photo Safari: Nov. 19. Autumn colors might still be vibrant for this guided photography hike along the Fox Den Loop. All skill levels are welcome to join Park Ranger Jamie Cameron, a former photojournalist and newspaper editor. Bring your mobile phone or large format SLR. Meet at the office breezeway at the Catawba River Area at 10 a.m.


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